Being a teenager is getting tougher by the minute. One of their biggest hurdles is making sense of a world that bombards them with messages about how they should look and feel and behave that don’t align with their own experiences of life. At the same time, they’re navigating significant physical, cognitive, and emotional changes, causing confusion and anxiety.
Teens want to stand out. Like all of us, they want to be recognized and accepted for who they are as whole beings, not half-baked adults. They want to discover their unique qualities and what sets them apart from others. Identifying their specialness, even though it’s hard to pinpoint, becomes their ultimate quest. It may be a personality trait, a talent, a distinct way of doing things, or simply a way of being.
Teens also want to fit in. It’s a fine line between unique and weird. While some can connect easily with their peers in spite of their differences, others have a harder time because of them. This can lead to putting on a facade to hide their true selves. It’s a feature, not a bug. Trying on various identities, styles, friendships, and beliefs is an effective way to find what truly resonates with them. They’re looking for the right fit and feel, and while they outgrow most of what they buy into, it’s through this process that they learn, evolve, and become.
Teens crave the best of both worlds on another front as well, to be seen as both children and adults, especially within the family dynamic. They want to engage in family life, be silly, childish, and needy one minute, and crave privacy and the freedom to make their own choices the next. This dynamic naturally creates tension. Another feature, not a bug. It’s how they establish a stable foundation from which they can bravely explore the world. Allow it, because growth is not linear. Circular logic is the way of the teenage warrior.
Teens are likely to flip flop. Sometimes they want to stand up, speak out, and deviate from the norm, even if it means going against the wishes of family and friends. Other times, they want to sit back and fall in line, seeking to blend in for a sense of belonging.
Worlds collide when parents, society, and authority figures expect them to stand out when they want to fit in and vice versa. Yet the main point of adolescence is for them to figure things out and make their own way.
So, folks, watch in awe as teens strive for the delicate balance between standing out and fitting in, knowing they will sometimes err on the side of caution and sometimes walk on the wild side. Watch as they explore and discover and grow, knowing they’re loved and accepted as they are. Maybe that’s what we all want.